|Korean Hanji paper|
I live in Iksan, which is close to Jeonju, the Korean city for Hanji That's in Jeonju that you will find the Hanji Museum, the Hanji center and that's where the Hanji Festival is held every May. Every time I would go to Jeonju I would spend lots of time in the tiny Hanji shops, literally drooling over the gorgeous plates, boxes and fans that the artisans would have for sale. I would constantly buy Hanji paper (the luxurious textures and colors and patterns were irresistible to me, and still are to this day), but would end up using it as wrapping paper, because I didn't know what else to do with this fantastic material. My friends back home were thrilled (they were sometimes more excited about the wrapping paper than the presents!...) but I felt that something was missing. I knew I had in my hands something extraordinary, but I didn't know what to do with it.
How old are you?
I asked a few Korean friends about 한지공예 (pronounced han-jee-gong-ye), trying to discover a place where I could learn the basics of this mysterious and fascinating craft. They all looked at me with that puzzled look on their faces: "well... there are workshops but they are for kids..." OK.... but how is that possible? The pieces I have seen in Jeonju (with the steep price tags attached to them) were surely not made by children; they were intricate, unbelievably detailed and obviously the result of dozens, if not hundred hours of work. Where could I learn? Who would teach me?
It took me more than four years to figure it out.
Blame it on the piggy
|One of the piggies I made, |
with the pages of old English textbooks.
And it all started with an arts & craft project I planned for my students at the English Academy I used to work. I decided to make piggy banks with my students, using a traditional paper mâché technique. I looked it up, mixed water and flour to make some gooey glue and we managed to create some cute piggy banks using balloons, newspaper and egg cartons. The results were surprisingly nice! The kids were thrilled, and so was the teacher.
That was in April 2011.
Afterwards I started to experiment with Hanji paper, to make a more refined and cool looking piggy. The Hanji paper was surprisingly difficult to tear into strips (that paper is tough, trust me) but when I managed to get it right the long and fibrous strips of paper were absolutely gorgeous.
Even if I enjoyed working with Hanji for paper mâché projects, I still hadn't found at that point a place or a person who would teach me what I really wanted to learn: the art of cutting and gluing the paper onto objects, like boxes or chests.
이미경쌤: A meeting that would change my life
|Hanok Village in Jeonju|
We walked into this Hanji shop, about a block away from the main drag. This shop looked different; half of the space was used by Hanji items for sale (intricate lamps, hand-painted fans, boxes, coasters, dolls and decorative objects) and the second half was filled with tables and plastic stools, piles of cardboard and craft materials like brushes, scraps of paper, cardboard forms, blank fans and masks, etc. Imagine that shop as the collision point between an Elementary school art classroom and a high-end Hanji boutique.
Then, this Korean lady, with the sunniest smile I had seen in a long time, walked towards me. I liked her instantly. We started to chat, trying to meet somewhere between her limited English and my broken Korean; I asked her questions about the glue she uses to make her Hanji items, about the paper, the cardboard frames, the lamps. She answers me patiently, showing me things around her shop. Then I dared to ask: "Would you teach me?..." and, just like that, the response I'd been waiting for came: "Yes, or course! What do you want to make?".
I was so excited I could barely answer. I wanted to say "Everything!! I want to learn to make every single item sold in this shop!!" but I didn't want to scare her away! So we agreed on a tissue case; "Come next Saturday and I will teach you". Wow! Was it that simple all along? Was she there the whole time, just waiting for me to walk into her shop?....
No need to tell you that the following Saturday I was there. Excited and ready. Nervous and enthusiastic. That's when the Hanji Naty adventure truly began.